Sea Level Rise and Florida Coastal Forests

No doubt most Floridians are aware of the potential challenges of sea level rise–at least in relationship to their houses, property, and communities. Ecosystems, though, may be a less visible problem for many residents of the sunshine state.

Francis E. “Jack” Putz wants to bring the plight of at least one ecosystem community to the foreground. He recently published an article, “Coastal Forests Retreat as Sea Levels Rise,” about how Florida’s coastal forests will likely respond to sea level rise.

“I hope that Floridians accept that sea level rise is something about which we need to be concerned now, and not just people in [other countries] and not just our children’s children,” Putz wrote in an email release about the article that has been published in the Palmetto, a quarterly journal for the Florida Native Plant Society.

“[The article] is 20 years of research,” said the professor of conservation biology at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla. Putz teaches courses on the ecology and management of local and tropical ecosystems. His research includes silviculture, fire ecology, and ethnobotany.

Florida under Exceptional Drought Conditions

A drought is gripping the nation, and according to a report issued April 10 by the U.S. Drought Monitor, the country has not been this dry in five years. The South Florida Water Management District has issued water restrictions in 16 counties, and Lake Okeechobee is two feet below its historical average level of 14.12 feet.

The interactive map on the U.S. Drought Monitor site shows drought areas across the nation, for regions and for individual states. Jacksonville has experienced the driest period this year since1921. Monitoring stations reported the driest such 6-month period on record for Florida, especially in north-central Florida, according to the Drought Monitor report. South Florida has had slightly more rainfall than the rest of the state, but there is still a lack of decent short-term precipitation.

The U.S. Drought Monitor is a joint effort of the Joint Agricultural Weather Facility (U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Commerce/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Climate Prediction Center (U.S. Department of Commerce/NOAA/National Weather Service; National Climatic Data Center (DOC/NOAA), and other agencies and academic organizations.


Florida Drought Levels

Drying Times

Florida continues to experience low annual rainfall, the only source of water to replenish the Floridan aquifer. This deep underground storage tank supplies 90 percent of Floridians with fresh water for drinking, manufacturing, growing food, sprinkling on lush landscaping, washing cars and clothes, and filling swimming pools.

Is it in peril?

Floridians might take note of two Texas towns that have run out of water. More than 1000 towns in Texas have water restrictions and 17 are considered critical in terms of water supplies. A recent PBS News Hour story reported the following:

“Topping that list is the town of Spicewood Beach, a community of 500 homes on the shores of Lake Travis near Austin. Spicewood relies on wells fed by water from both the lake and the aquifer below the town. Too much water use and too little rainfall last year caused the water table to sink to historic lows. This January, Spicewood Beach became the first Texas town to run out of water.”

There are lots of ways to save water. Cities and counties all over Florida have materials and programs to help Floridians conserve water, fix leaks, and find water savings appliances. Check out information on Web pages for your local government or utility or go to the water management districts Web page to find a link to your district.